Monthly Archives: December 2014

“On Molasses Lake (Treading)”

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Roadside Monument
Split EP w/ Puller, 1997

Roadside Monument were a ‘90s math-rock band that played without the clean precision of a Don Caballero or Hella; their murky, detuned wanderings fell more along the Shellac/Jawbox end of the spectrum (fitting, as Bob Weston and J. Robbins both engineered records for the group). As a dedicated 3-piece seemingly un-enamored of overdubs, they were limited in range but excelled with what they had. I suppose their album-length high water mark would’ve been 1998’s I Am the Day of Current Taste (best song title: “OJ Simpson House Auction”), but my personal favorite is EP orphan “On Molasses Lake,” which steadies the band’s erratic impulses just long enough to allow two very indie, very ‘90s verses to take hold. After that of course comes the requisite explosion: surging guitar, syncopated drumming, and a dramatic cry of “May we not be forgotten!” Doing my part to make that happen.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20On%20Molasses%20Lake%20(Roadside%20Monument).mp3]

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“Damage”

faith_in_strangers
Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers, 2014

Andy Stott picks the best fucking album art. You see the cover for Faith in Strangers above, but take a look at this. This. And this too. The guy has his aesthetic nailed down, that’s for sure: sleek, stark, dangerous but well-appointed. 2012’s Luxury Problems had perhaps the ultimate Andy Stott album title — it was the sound of shit breaking down, as heard from the most expensive seat on the Titanic. “Damage,” from the new album, is a fitting follow-up: knotty, clanging percussion, a relatively leaden tempo, a three-note bass melody torn from some larger, more elaborate production. Minimal, abrasive, selective … luxuriant. Proceed at your peril.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Damage.mp3]

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“See You Later”

Mic_City_Sons
Heatmiser
Mic City Sons, 1996

This sounds dramatic and probably is, but I haven’t listened to Elliott Smith much since the day he died … and that was more than 11 years ago. I had previously been a serious fan, and to this day I’d still cite him as a formative influence (inasmuch as holds meaning for a non-professional musician), but the tragic, almost unbelievable nature of his death effectively ended my interest in revisiting his music. It became much harder to listen to his solo records (I still cite Either/Or as my fave) once it became clear that, yes, that was the real Elliott we’d been hearing in those songs: brilliant but addled, solipsistic, hopelessly addicted to love and other substances. It was one form of intrusion to merely hear this as a fan; quite another to realize that, emotionally at least, it had all been true. It became impossible for me to spend time with those old records without also feeling somehow complicit in one man’s disintegration. I am trying to express this with as little judgment as I can, and perhaps I am not succeeding, but the point is the man’s music simply meant too much to me for his life to not also carry equal weight. To lose one felt – for me anyway — like losing both. It was/is no longer my place to live in his world as a listener, but that shouldn’t stop you, or anyone really, from remembering his considerable gifts as a songwriter. In an ideal age, we’d all be able to hear a song like “See You Later” and it would feel like the first time every time, and the name of the artist would never be known, and we’d all be better for it. Because the music was truly special.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20See%20You%20Later.m4a]

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“Firecrackers”

marissa
Marissa Nadler
July, 2014

I’m not sure I fully comprehend “Firecrackers,” and in some ways I’m glad for that. It’s not for lack of curiosity — the part of me that finds the song fascinating would have a hard time saying no to more backstory. But generally speaking, any song where a woman alerts an attacker to her presence is going to give me the spooks, whether or not the sentiment is metaphorical. Maybe that says more about me than the song, I dunno. Wherever the truth lies, Marissa Nadler’s songwriting succeeds at unsettling; there are moments on July that make my hair stand on end no matter how many times I hear them. “Firecrackers” just happens to be the most sinister. You might be surprised at first to learn that Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn handled production duties on this one. You’ll get over it pretty quickly.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Firecrackers.mp3]

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“Cuttooth”

rh
Radiohead
Knives Out single, 2001

Are b-sides even a thing anymore? I know, of course, that there will always be songs artists choose not to release on a grand scale, or even at all — there will always be throwaways. But as the traditional album format declines in relevance and songs matter only at face value — either $.99 or “free” to stream, and immediate enough to warrant repeat listens or forgotten on first pass — the playing field is leveled for both old and new material. A song becomes just a song, of interest to as many as want to hear it, with only the artist’s wishes providing context. In the new listening economy, b-sides mean as much as singles, as much as track 10 or 12 or 200, as much as radio. The songs either exist by virtue of being revealed or they don’t, and their commercial/critical fortunes rise and fall alongside all other noise. Radiohead’s two decades of b-sides outline a fascinating parallel history of the band — this is a group whose reputation was made in and because of the traditional album era, which itself enabled the b-side model as much as the singles format before it. Anything that didn’t make the cut on OK Computer or Kid A or Amnesiac was certainly intended by the band to be experienced apart from those albums. But today, an interested fan can listen back to those singles and EP’s featuring non-album material … and it’s all just Radiohead. And B-side Radiohead strikes me in general as less conservative, a little less measured, more willing to engage in traditional rock-band theatrics than the willfully obscured “final cuts” marked for canon. Witness “Cuttooth,” a piano-driven rocker that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Coldplay record from the same era were it not for its more adventurous production. I can scarcely imagine Thom Yorke & Co. sanctioning this track for The Bends, much less Amnesiac, their most experimental record. And of course they didn’t, they picked it for the scrap-heap, but here we are 13 years later and sure enough, it’s a Radiohead song. As a fan, I like it about as much as anything else they could’ve chosen to put on an album. The future audience may be unaware there was ever a distinction.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/2-07%20Cuttooth.mp3]

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“Careless”

Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils
Clash the Truth, 2012

It’s raining in L.A. this week, and that’s news — it never rains in L.A. anymore. Something about this music sounds right in this weather, in this city. It’s Beach Fossils, after all — not Beach House, not Best Coast — the threat of drought is right there in the name. Wet music for a gloomy day, or perhaps no day at all — breezy, simple, memorable, melancholy. Shades of The Cure. Shades of DIIV (naturally). Shades of I don’t know what else, but some other band we all recognize. Best heard at night, through a windshield in the rain? Sure, that’ll do.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Beach%20Fossils%20-%20Careless%20%20(Clash%20The%20Truth).mp3]

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